The Art of Straight Talk
I just had an experience like that this last week when I was calling somewhere to find out about their online return policy. It was frustrating. I thought I was being pretty clear and it seemed like the representative I was talking to, wasn’t getting what I was asking.
With that, it occurs to me there are two sides to this type of communication breakdown:
- There’s your side – what you’re saying and how you’re saying it.
- Then there’s their side – how they’re listening to you.
Since you can’t do anything to control what’s going on over there with them, I thought we should focus this conversation on what you can do on your end to make a difference with your communication style.
A common topic I get asked about is feeling misunderstood and frustrated in communicating with friends, family, and loved ones. People will say they feel like they’re being clear, asking for what they want, sharing their feelings, and they’re not getting the responses or results they were hoping for.
Inevitably when I ask about the conversation and what was actually said, it becomes clear that essentially they didn’t articulate what was going on, instead they were sugar coating things or figuring out nice ways to say what they kinda meant. The impact of this over longer periods of time can be disastrous, leading to all kinds of resentment and frustration. Left alone to fester it can turn into one huge mess!
Worse yet is when we’re not saying anything at all – thinking it’s better for the situation if we don’t say how we really feel.
Here is a basic, and really minor example of how this works:
I went to a movie recently with a friend. The movie we went to see had an actor that typically stars in movies I don’t appreciate. There’s nothing wrong with the movies or the actor himself, I’m just not interested.
My friend picked the movie and I didn’t speak up and say: “I’d rather not see that one, can we pick a different one?” Instead I went ahead and said: “Sure. I guess so. We can go to that one.” (Nothing like a little passive-aggressive overtone thrown in there for good measure with the “I guess so” comment…)
Not a big deal right? It’s only a few hours of my life, even if the movie is horrible I’m not really losing out on anything significant. It’s also a chance to hang out with my friend and she gets to see a movie she wants to see. All in all it can’t really be that big a deal… can it??
Stop and consider for a moment the bigger picture.
In the back of my mind the whole time I was getting ready to go was the thought: “this is gonna suck.” When my friend picked me up, guess what energy I brought into the car with me? That’s right, more “this is gonna suck” energy. Then the whole time I sat through the movie I continued to have the “this is gonna suck” energy and attitude going on.
When the movie was over and my friend asked how I enjoyed the film I told her that I wasn’t a big fan of the lead actor and I didn’t really like the movie. She said: “Why didn’t you tell me?! I don’t like that actor either! I thought I heard you say you wanted to see this movie last week! That’s why I picked it! Is that why you’re so quiet? I wondered what was up with you!”
So here we have both spent time and money doing something neither of us wanted to do because I didn’t speak up and say what was really there for me.
And this is only a minor example about a movie! What happens when we aren’t honest or straight about something bigger? Something more important, like feelings in a relationship, choices about jobs, parenting styles, household budgeting, parental criticism!!
Try that on for a bit… what is the impact of not speaking your truth regarding bigger issues in your life other than just Friday night movies? Where do you typically acquiesce?
I had a friend who was going through a really hard time in her life. A number of things in a number of areas were blowing up and her stress levels were climbing. She really needed support from her inner circle to help her out. The thing was, she never asked anyone for help or told anyone what she wanted from them. After a short period of time, she lost it and freaked out on a number of people – me included.
I knew she was stressed but she never told me that she needed my help. When we went back and looked at what had actually happened, it was clear there were a number of times she had been ‘hinting’ at needing help and I missed the cues.
She was really upset with me for not ‘getting’ her, and I felt blindsided by her anger. It was a great lesson for both of us in learning about clear communication. I learned that I could have asked what she needed – of course this would be in the spirit of partnership and relatedness, not co-dependent victim enabling. She learned that she has a really hard time asking for help and telling people what she needs.
After that we took some time and talked about what both of us needed in order for a situation like this to not happen again. The interesting thing was, the times she had been hinting and I missed the cues, would have been times that I was available and willing to help out no questions asked.
Changing the pattern has to start with YOU.
You CAN’T expect people to mind read. You can’t rely on hinting and subtly. If you want something, you have to ask for it – straight up, no fluff. The more you practice this, the better you’ll get at it and the more natural you’ll become. One thing you’ll likely discover is that often you’re not even clear on what you’re trying to say or what you need. If you don’t really know, how can you expect someone else figure it out? This is really good practice for getting you in touch with and being responsible for your own feelings… because in the end it’s all up to you.
Take a deep breath. Gulp. Then speak!
Until next time ,
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